Is Embalming Fluid In Your Groundwater?

Modern urban wastewater treatment plant
In Northern Ireland this week, residents are dealing with a tragic, dangerous consequence of overcrowded cemeteries. Recent floods combined with cheap coffins have led to carcinogenic chemicals from embalming fluid — like formaldehyde and ammonia — leaking into groundwater stores.

An Irish gravedigger identified only as Dermot tried to explain the scope of the problem: “To give you an idea of the extent of the water issue, one person who was being buried was over 33 stone [460 pounds] in weight and after we had laid her to rest in the grave, we allowed [time] for the family to leave. When we came back to fill it in, the woman in the coffin was floating in her grave in approximately four or five feet of water. That’s how bad things were.”

The flooding has caused extra grief not just for mourning families, but everyone who relies on the groundwater. And in the U.S., a flood diversion plan in Fargo, MN is putting 11 cemeteries in the path of temporary floodwaters, leaving families hurt and confused.

“There are a lot of people out there who feel they are being disrespected by putting water on their family’s graves,” said U.S. Army Corps of Engineers spokeswoman Terry Williams at the end of May. “That is really an emotional impact to them. We certainly understand that.”

Each year, U.S. cemeteries inter remains inside 30 million board feet of hardwood caskets, more than 104,000 tons of steel caskets, and almost 830,000 gallons of embalming fluids. That’s one reason why the National Funeral Directors Association says cremation is fast becoming the new norm; they say at least 56% of funerals will involve cremation by 2017.

The founder of a green burial company says embalming fluid poses a real threat to communities.

“Not enough investigation has been carried out in this sensitive area…[formaldehyde] actually merely dilutes, leaving the highly probable conclusion that some percentage of this carcinogen toxin may well make its way into some of our ground water source.”

Cremation doesn’t rule out traditional burial options; many people ask their families to inter biodegradable cremation urns rather than scattering their ashes.

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